Supplements: Do we really need them?
Many of my clients are taking high street brand or bargain bin supplements when they first come to see me. It’s great that the public are becoming aware of a need for additional nutrients. Afterall, even a healthy diet can be very depleted in nutrients due to a lot of produce being imported and therefore, less than fresh. Also, because agricultural land is so intensively farmed, the soil is greatly lacking in nutrients. Studies have shown that the nutritional value of the fruit and vegetables we eat today contain around 50% less vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
When you consider that we live busy, stressful lives and our environment is full of nutrient depleting toxins, it becomes easy to understand that our bodies may need a little more support.
You get what you pay for:
There are several problems with budget brand supplements:
They are very low strength. Whilst you certainly do not want to overdose on any nutrient, these budget brands contain such low levels of the nutrients that they are unlikely to have any therapeutic effect.
They are not natural nutrients but instead chemical copies. It’s not cheap to extract nutrients from nature without damaging them, which is why budget brands opt for creating the nutrients in test tubes. However, these chemical copies are not bioavailable. This means that the body does not recognise them, and therefore absorbs very little of them. For example vitamin B12 has three forms; cyanocobalamin- the cheapest form, of which 80% is immediately removed from the body by the kidneys- hydroxycobalamin and methylcobalamin of which only 5% is immediately excreted.
Most budget brand supplements come in tableted form. This is problematic because tablets contain non-nutrients that are only there to stick the nutrients together, make the tablet look prettier, and taste more pleasant. These binding ingredients can be very difficult to digest and aren’t always fully dissolved. Capsules rarely contain these ingredients.
Supplements like fish oils, evening primrose oil, starflower oil and other oils, are prone to going off. A study that tested a wide variety of high street supplements showed that all brands tested were rancid long before their expiry dates. Taking a rancid oil is very damaging to the body.
There has also been lots of studies that have created sensationalist headlines, warning that ‘supplements are bad for you!’. And yes, budget brand supplements can be bad for you! However, the studies that disrate supplements analyse these poor quality products, and not the high quality, highly regulated supplements that nutritional therapists tend to recommend. There are thousands of scientific studies that show the therapeutic benefits of appropriate supplementation of natural nutrients.
How to choose a good supplement
There are so many different supplements out there that it’s easy to get carried away and end up taking about 20 different things. Talking to a nutritional therapist can help you to suss out what nutrient support you actually need and will benefit from. There are even tests that can be done that tell you your unique requirements! You’re generally better off taking two to three very good quality supplements, rather than lots of poor quality ones.
Opt for supplements in capsule form as these contain fewer unnecessary ingredients. Finding quality supplements is not easy, but a tip is not to shop at the supermarket or chemist. Instead, use an independent health food shop. They often have very knowledgable staff and they’ll order in anything you need that they don’t keep in stock.
And remember, when it comes to supplements, you usually get what you pay for. So if you want to take supplements consider them an investment in your health and go for quality, otherwise, it may be best to go without rather than choosing for a budget option.
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